By Manuel Mogato
MANILA (Reuters) - The United States has formally asked for greater access to civilian and military facilities in the Philippines to deploy aircraft, ships, troops and equipment in a first round of talks on a new security deal, Philippine officials said on Thursday.
The Philippines and the United States held a day of talks to boost regular visits by U.S. forces to its former colony to enhance the Philippine military's ability to maintain maritime security and tackle disasters.
Relations have warmed considerably between the allies as the Philippines looks to the United States to help counter China's assertiveness amid territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Officials said the talks focused on allowing the rotation of ships, aircraft and troops and the storage of equipment. But there would be no mention of troops numbers in any agreement and it would be up to the Philippine and U.S. militaries to decide on the size and duration of any deployment.
"The specific areas where they will be, or the activities and exercises, will be listed, but not the number of troops, not the operational details," Carlos Sorreta, a senior foreign ministry official, told reporters at the main army base in Manila.
Pio Lorenzo Batino, a defense department undersecretary, said a new security pact would "not talk about the exact size and shape of the visiting troops and equipment from the United States".
The talks coincide with a renewed U.S. military presence in the region as Washington shifts its foreign, economic and security policy towards Asia.
Friction between China and the Philippines, and other countries in the region, over disputed territories in the oil- and gas-rich sea has increased since last year despite diplomatic efforts to forge an agreement on maritime conduct.
A small group of left-wing, anti-U.S. activists gathered outside the base to denounce the proposed agreement. They called on legislators to open an inquiry into details of the negotiations being kept from the public.
The talks are to resume in Washington later this month.
(Editing by Ron Popeski)